3. Minneapolis-St. Paul
Miguel S. Salmeron
Population: 353,395 (Minneapolis); 256,213 (St. Paul)
Average home cost: $149,300
Number of parks: 330
- Maintains excellent air quality -- the ozone didn't exceed EPA limits anytime in 1999
- Boasts more teachers (in St. Paul) certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards than most other districts in the nation
- Constructed 52 miles of biking and walking paths -- called the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway -- that connect the Minneapolis lakes
- Is loaded with educational family activities, including a simulated walk through a dinosaur's stomach at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul
City highlight: Minneapolis squeezes in more theater seats per capita than any other city in the country besides the Big Apple. And adults aren't the only ones filling in the rows. Families flock to the 35-year-old Children's Theatre Company (CTC), nationally renowned for its lavish, high-quality productions like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Pippi Longstocking, which is currently on stage.
The 17-member acting company won an Outstanding Achievement Award last fall from the National Theater Conference -- the first time the award went to a children's theater. "We make sure never to sacrifice anything just because it's for children," says spokesperson Linda Jacobs.
To that end, CTC runs a theater arts training program, in which 550 8- to 18-year-olds a year study movement, acting, and singing, culminating in theater productions. CTC also began "Neighborhood Bridges" in four Minneapolis elementary schools. For two hours a week during the school year, its actor-educators lead children in writing exercises and a mini-play on the CTC stage. "Theater arts can build self-esteem, confidence, and conflict resolution," Jacobs explains. "These are things children can use no matter what they do in the future."